Best Lutheran Dessert

Lithuanian Napoleonas torte, Racine Bakery

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I first encountered this extraordinary dessert at New Pioneer Coop in Iowa City, Iowa, where it was shipped in from Omaha's Lithuanian Bakery. Named after Bonaparte, who reportedly found the time to munch on it during his disastrous Russian campaign of 1812, Napoleonas torte is built on layers of a waferlike sour cream pastry rather than the more common sponge cake. In between are strata of buttercream, often flavored with lemon, and a filling of tangy dried apricots. "All recipes for it are different," says Dana Kapacinckas of Racine Bakery. "Some old-timers used to make it with layers of cranberries." Certain Polish and Ukrainian versions omit the lemon, others throw in jam and/or nuts, and I've found a few made with lemon pudding from a box, the last more in keeping with traditional Lutheran cookery. Racine's labor-intensive version has "at least" 12 or 13 layers of pastry, "just a touch of lemon" in the buttercream, and comes crowned with a delicate blossom formed from the wafers. The tortes range from $21.99 to $33.99; special order to be on the safe side.